The Red Couch: Practice Listening; Practice Being Wrong

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

A Note from Red Couch Book Club Editor Annie Rim: The way we’re engaging with books here at the Red Couch has changed this year––you can read more about these changes over here at What’s Next for the Red Couch? Instead of an introduction and discussion post, we’ll be featuring reflections in the midst of the three months about a topic we’re discussing. As we dive into The Color of Compromise, I’m Still Hereand Sing, Unburied, Sing a theme we’re exploring is that of perspective and narrator. How can we engage with and listen to experiences outside our own understanding? How can we put ourselves in a posture of listening to books whose target audience is not us?

I’m pleased to have Abby Norman join us for this first reflection. When I think of thoughtful white women listening and learning to move aside for her sisters of color, I think of Abby. She has taught me so much about sharing her platform and elevating the voices who are often overlooked without losing her own voice. I hope you are as moved by her reflection as I am.

***

If you have been around SheLoves Magazine for very long, you know how much we love it when a woman speaks up. Women writing books and starting groups, and becoming pastors, and starting podcasts and video blogs—we love it. We think that women speaking their mind is powerful; it is the stuff holy dreams are made of. We have watched and cheered as many of you have found your voice and learned to speak the holy things that God has put in your heart.

I know how hard that was––to say the says, to speak the truth. Believe me, I know. My journey for writing for SheLoves started with me asking: What would I do if I weren’t ashamed?

I have learned to speak confidently. I am writing a book as we speak. I know that what you are doing is no small thing.

But I also know the way that learning to speak even when your voice shakes can make it even harder to hear those who disagree with us. And sisters, hear me say this as gently as I can: Sometimes we are doing to our sisters who are black, who are brown, who have very different experiences as us exactly what was done to us.

Just because we don’t MEAN to be doing it, doesn’t mean we are not hurting our sisters.

Being a white woman raised in the evangelical church is often a strange double-edged sword. It took me so much to learn how to speak up effectively, to say what I mean and not be ashamed of it, to realize my unique experience mattered. I wish I could hold your face and look you dead in the eyes when I say that again your individual experience matters. Whatever happened or didn’t happen, how you got hurt or passed by grieves God.

But then I would want to stand you up and put my hand on your shoulders. I would tell you, imagine all the crap you had to deal with to get people to hear you. Now imagine that was only half the battle. Imagine that being a woman was hard sometimes, and then imagine that half of the women around you, and most of the women in charge STILL don’t understand your experience, STILL don’t understand the ways in which they miss-judge you, STILL think of you as over-emotional or over-reacting. Imagine having to work twice as hard as you already do.

That is what our black sisters experience. That is what our sisters of color are having to tackle, and the amazing thing is that sometimes they do! Sometimes they do twice the work with half the appreciation and manage to beat all the odds. It is truly amazing, and should be celebrated, but shouldn’t every woman, every person have that same chance?

I believe that you are kind enough, that you are good enough, you would say yes. You would say yes I want everyone to have the same chance. What if I told you that you could help with that?

White women, we are in a strange position and I need us to acknowledge that. We are being oppressed by the patriarchy, and also we benefit from white supremacy even if we don’t want to. We just do. Every time I get upset at a manager in public, I am “concerned.” Every time a black woman who is literally with me in the same space gets upset with a manager, they are angry––they are an angry black woman.

I know that when someone tells you, you don’t understand my experience and you aren’t getting it hits all of the buttons the patriarchy programmed in you. I know you feel the need to let whoever is saying that know just how hard you have it. I know that because you have less privilege than the men around you and so you want to protect what little piece you have. I know, because I have felt all of those things. I have said all of those things.

But then, I learned to listen. I learned to hear the black women in my life who told me that sometimes my whiteness let me get away with things that they couldn’t get away with, even with black men. I learned to watch and see how often the women of color of my life were ignored and told they were overreacting even when they were restraining themselves in a manner I could never imagine having to do. I learned to check myself before I argued with black women about their own experiences. I learned to google it before I asked an indigenous woman to educate me. I learned to hear my sisters when it was uncomfortable for me, not just when we are on the same page.

They taught me so much. They taught me to see the ways that white supremacy was protecting me and hurting them. They taught me to see the ways that I sometimes sided with the patriarchy in order to keep my power. They taught me what they needed from me and how to do better. 

This month we are practicing listening to women of color. If we are really for everyone, for all the people to rise up together as we so often proclaim in this space, then we have to learn to listen to women with different experiences then the one that gets told most often, the story of the white woman. We have to learn to hear our sisters. May I invite you into that practice?

Practice listening to women of color.

Practice googling things you don’t understand.

Practice asking white women to explain something to you before you ask a woman of color (email me!).

Practice being uncomfortable with something someone else said and just thinking about it for 24 hours.

Practice ditching the shame. Instead, learn and do better.

Practice being wrong. We are going to have to learn to do better, and we are going to get it wrong. That is going to be hard. Do it anyway. 

I believe we can work together to have a better world. I also realize that we will only rise if we all rise. White women, can we do better? Can we work toward our own freedom and also the freedom of our sisters? Can we hear them?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Abby Norman
Abby Norman lives, and loves in the city of Atlanta. She lives with her two hilarious children and a husband that doubles as her biggest fan. When not mothering, teaching, parenting or “wifeing”, she blogs at accidentaldevotional.com. Abby loves to make up words and is excited by the idea that Miriam Webster says you can verb things.
Abby Norman

Latest posts by Abby Norman (see all)

Abby Norman